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FRBR: Not a Cuddly Talking Toy for Catalogers

Magazine article Information Today

FRBR: Not a Cuddly Talking Toy for Catalogers

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FRBR: Not a Cuddly Talking Toy for Catalogers by GWEN M. GREGORY FRBR: A Guide for the Perplexed by Robert L. Maxwell Chicago: ALA Editions, 2008 ISBN: 978-0-8389-0950-8 151 pages; $50, softcover

FRBR (pronounced furbur) is an acronym for Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. That translates into layman's terms as an international model for cataloging that takes advantage of newer computer and database technology; it's all the rage in library circles these days. For more detail (including the full text of the guidelines), see VII/s13/wgfrbr/index.htm.

But what is it? Basically, FRBR uses entity-relations hip modeling to structure a bibliographic database in an entirely new way. Rather than the usual Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) record that we are all familiar with, FRBR uses a new and different way of structuring the same types of information.

But don't worry just yet, because with this book cataloging guru and author Robert Maxwell is here to help us understand what FRBR is and how it works. Maxwell is known for his work in cataloging, including writing books such as Maxwell's Guide to Authority Work (ALA, 2002) and Maxwell's Handbook for AACR2: Explaining and Illustrating the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules Through the 2003 Update (ALA, 2004). Now active in national cataloging circles, he is also senior librarian and leader of the special collections and metadata cataloging section at the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University. As such, he is well-qualified to teach us about FRBR and compare it to familiar library standards such as AACR2 and MARC.

How It All Started

After an introduction to the history of FRBR, which began with an international committee in the early 1990s, Maxwell progresses to the daunting task of explaining the new standards. Entity-relationship modeling, which "divides a given data universe (e.g., the data required to run a business) into specific entities linked by specific relationships," is the key to FRBR, he says. Models can be conceptualized with flowcharts using three aspects: entities, attributes, and relationships.

As the first of this trio, "entities" encompass many of the items we know from traditional library cataloging, including persons, events, and publications. These are grouped into entity sets, which include many individual instances. For example, the entity set "person" would include individual entities such as Malcolm McDowell, John Irving, and Johann Sebastian Bach. Each person will have the attribute "name." Relationships, which include "created by" and "known by," show how these entities interact with each other. …

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